Pre post disclaimer: I am really aware that there is a lot more to feminism than body image and body acceptance, but right now this is what I have experience with. A lot of my writing is going to be about the feminist ideology I have been exploring in relation to recovery from my eating disorder. Every day I am learning about how my beliefs about myself and my body are at the center of why the world needs feminism. So, for a little bit, while I figure out my ideas and educate myself further, this blog will often read like an ED Recovery blog. Stick with me and I’ll try to say something valuable about feminism in there too. My goal is to continue to explore my ideas and educate myself as much as possible so someday I can be a real feminist too.
My wedding is in 17 days. Well at this point it’s more like 16 days and a few hours. For the past week or so I have been waking up in the middle of the night after having nightmares about my wedding dress not fitting. Or nightmares where I’m suddenly an endless blob of fat rolling out of fabric. Or nightmares where I get the pictures back from my wedding and I burn them all because I hate how I look so much. Really, the thought of wedding pictures was really the beginning of the end and the constant feeling of doom that’s been following me around for months. I was so scared of hating my wedding photos that I embarked on a mad quest to “fix” my body that ended with outpatient treatment.
The entire wedding industry is built around tying women’s self worth to numbers. The all important number is the bride’s weight. How much do you weigh right now? Does that number fall within an “acceptable” BMI? If not, lose enough to be in an acceptable range and lose 5 extra pounds for good measure. If you are an “acceptable” weight you could probably still lose 5-10 pounds. Just to make sure you’re beautiful. It is your day after all. Shouldn’t you be beautiful? Oh and by the way beautiful is determined by a number on the scale, not how you feel or how you actually look. Make sure it’s the right number.
Next there’s the dress numbers. What dress size are you? What are your measurements? Some women hear the dreaded, “We don’t carry samples in your size.” Others hear “Don’t worry, this will look better once you’ve lost the weight for the wedding. You are losing weight right?” The wedding culture actually supports insanity like buying your wedding dress TOO SMALL as motivation to lose the weight for the wedding. I am so grateful that this was not my experience. It just so happens that the dress I fell in love with was only available 3 sizes too large. I had to get my dress tailored for my body. I take this as proof that a Higher Power exists and that it didn’t want me to starve before my wedding. If I’d had to lose weight for a dress that was too small I would have been hospitalized just in time for my ceremony.
All this focus on numbers sends the clear message that brides are only as good as the number on the scale, the tape measure, and the tag on the wedding dress. This was a depressing conclusion to reach, especially since I had hit rock bottom with my eating disorder and couldn’t possibly focus on my weight without going crazy.
Instead of “sweating for the wedding” like wedding blogs all over the Internet suggested, I have gained approximately 10 pounds in the months before my wedding. I say approximately because a few weeks ago I actually threw out my scale. Well, I didn’t. I am so powerless over my scale I had to ask my fiance to throw it out, but the point is there is no longer a scale in my house. Which is a big deal for me.
According to the wedding industry, however, I am a failure. What have I failed at? The only true answer is that I have failed to live up to “what is expected of me” as a bride to be in America. To be a good bride I must be working my butt off (literally) to look like the “best version” of myself for my wedding day. If I am not working my butt off (literally) for the wedding then I must be lazy and undisciplined or I just don’t care enough. See what happened there? A moral judgement was passed on me for my failure to go to the gym. The assumption is not that I have a busy schedule, or that I’m happy with my body as it is, or that I simply don’t like working out. My motivation to change my body is made in to a moral issue. The media and the diet and workout industries thrive on making bodies moral issues. The message is that your body is bad and therefore you are bad. If you want to be good then you will fix your body. This is exactly the kind of thinking that kept me working out 3-4 hours a day before I injured myself.
This expectation also assumes that my current state is not the “best version of me”.The message is that your body is never good enough and if you’re not working to change it you’re not good enough either. There are thousands of websites, books, and even businesses devoted to “bridal weight loss plans”. The nutritionist I went to see before I entered treatment advertised such weight loss plans on her website. Everywhere you look the message is that as a bride it is your duty to drop a few pounds so you can look your best.
Browsing bridal forums is the best representation I have ever seen of this message. I have seen women post things like “I’m at a weight I’m pretty happy with, but I think I want to lose 5 or 10 pounds before the wedding.” I was one of these brides to be. I was at a fine weight before I tried to lose 10 pounds for my wedding, and trying to lose those 10 pounds actually drove me insane. Instead of encouraging brides to be happy with themselves and stay sane during the wedding planning process the wedding industry is encouraging them to be miserable and crazed. Which makes everyone around them miserable and crazed during what is supposed to be a joyful time.
The worst part is that brides are buying in to all this nonsense wholeheartedly. I am, in no way, passing judgement. I am the bride that believes so deeply in the expectation of being a thin beautiful bride that I have been waking up at night in a panic about how I look in my wedding dress. I am the bride that bought in to the wedding industry’s number game so wholeheartedly that I crashed and burned. I am hoping to also be the bride who can rise from the ashes. I had my final wedding dress fitting today and everything fit just fine. Maybe I can stop having nightmares and finally get a good night’s sleep. But deep down I’m a little disappointed that I have bound my happiness to fitting perfectly in to a dress.